Surekha Kulkarni is a social entrepreneur, jewelry designer and founder and program director of Beaded Treasures Project. When Surekha moved from India to Louisville in 1986, she did so to help her son Nikhil, who has dyslexia and the schools in India were not able to make the needed accommodations. “We felt like we had no choice and so we moved here—a family of four with four suitcases and a boatload of optimism,” Surekha recalls. Before she moved to America, she had never worked a day in her life. Her whole life changed when she moved here and started working at an Old Louisville grocery store she opened with her husband, Suhas (a 2011 MOSAIC Award honoree).
On a trip home to India in 2005, Surekha took a jewelry making class, even though she herself doesn’t like wearing a lot of jewelry. She successfully started selling her jewelry, but soon discovered that she did not enjoy selling — just the creative part. So she started teaching a jewelry-making class called “Beaded Treasures” for the JCPS Adult and Continuing Education program and really liked that.
While volunteering for Kentucky Refugee Ministries in 2010, she met a group of women trying to sell necklaces without much success, and Beaded Treasures Project was born.“Usually, the man [in a refugee family], gets a job, and the women, most of them encounter enormous difficulty. Maybe they’ve never worked in their home country. They have been traumatized. They don’t have child care facilities. So no one ever thinks of them of having any value, any skill they can contribute to the family income.” The Beaded Treasures Project creates community support for refugee and disadvantaged women in Louisville by teaching them the art of jewelry making as a means of self-sufficiency. “What we are doing is providing them with the opportunity. We train them in home-based skills. They use what they have in order to start earning something, supplementing their income, and in the process, boosting self-confidence, their self-esteem, and they get empowered.”
Surekha’s work has generated national and local attention. In 2016, she was featured in the July issue of Family Circle Magazine, as well as local media outlets including: Louisville Magazine, Today’s Woman, Business First, Courier-Journal, WFPL, Art FM, WDRB, WLKY, and WAVE3. She was named “Volunteer of the Year, 2016” by Volunteers of America and received the prestigious 2016 WLKY Bell Award and the 2016 Pyramid Award of Excellence in Social Innovation by the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. In 2017, Surekha was awarded the Women of Distinction award by Center for Women and Families and was nominated as Most Admired Woman in the Arts Category by Today’s Woman magazine.
Surekha’s other passion is social activism for women’s issues. She volunteers at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America, and any place where “that extra help” is needed. Her volunteer board affiliations include serving Oldham and Henry counties on the Friends of KET board, Asia Institute – Crane House, Just Creations, and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Foundation.
Please join us on May 23 at the Louisville Marriott Downtown for the 2019 MOSAIC Awards, a dinner event recognizing new or first-generation immigrants and refugees who are making a significant contribution to their profession and our local and global community. Mrs. Kulkarni and the other honorees will receive the MOSAIC Award, which symbolizes Multicultural Opportunities for Success and Achievement In our Community. For more information visit: www.jfcslouisville.org/mosaic-awards
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